Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, May 17, 2024

Bean feted with praise, portrait

The Hon. Russell Bean, Judge Sherry Paty and Aaron Lewis watch as Bean’s children unveil the portrait of their father May 10 at Chattanooga City Court. “I haven’t changed a bit,” Bean quipped upon seeing it. - Photo by HCSO Public Relations Office

The fourth stop on the Hon. Russell J. Bean 2022-2024 Retirement Tour took place May 10 at Chattanooga City Court, with Judge Sherry Paty presiding over the unveiling of Bean’s portrait.

Bean cracked that the number of dates on his farewell circuit – four – exceeded those of superstar Cher’s, suggesting it could be his last, or that he at least is ready for it to be.

“I’ve already thanked my staff and the clerk’s office, so I’m not going to get into that again,” Bean said during his remarks. “We’ve gone over that quite a bit, and they know how much I care for them.”

Despite Bean being ready to bring his protracted send-off to an end, there were still those who wanted to honor him further for his contributions to the bench, the bar and the city of Chattanooga.

Among those was the Hon. Clarence Shattuck, who watched Bean serve as a judge for 22 years after former Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey appointed him to the bench in 2000. Foremost on Shattuck’s mind was the dignified but gracious atmosphere Bean nurtured in his courtroom and the positive impact his demeanor had on the defendants who appeared before him.

“This court is the only experience many people have with the justice system,” Shattuck said during his remarks. “And Russell provided them with a wonderful impression of the judicial system. He was fair and impartial and treated every defendant with respect. That’s important to our judicial system, given what you see on television and read in newspapers.”

Shattuck also stated that while Bean’s judgements from the bench conveyed his passion for upholding the law, he saw court as an opportunity to instruct others and to encourage them to change their behavior rather than a place to levy fines wholesale.

Nowhere was this more evident than in Bean’s decisions on traffic cases, Shattuck reminded those who had filled Courtroom Two nearly to capacity.

“Russell was concerned about everyone being more careful and being more understanding of other drivers, and of knowing and applying the traffic laws. And he expressed these concerns in strong terms, not by putting people in jail but by trying to drill these things into their minds.”

In a 2023 report from Consumer Affairs, Chattanooga was ranked 19th among the cities in America with the worst drivers, 2021 data from the U.S. Department of Transportation reveals.

Shattuck said Bean went to great lengths to change that during his tenure on the bench. In addition to speaking about traffic safety at schools, to various clubs and on television, Bean testified before the Tennessee General Assembly about enhancing the state’s traffic laws, and prepared a traffic safety video he required violators to watch.

Municipal judges throughout Tennessee are now showing the video in their courtrooms.

“We can never know how many people Judge Bean has influenced or how many lives he’s saved as a result,” Shattuck continued. “But there are people who would say he’s had an effect on their conduct.”

There are also people who could say Bean saved them the cost of a fine. When the judge began to hear complaints in his courtroom about an abnormally brief yellow light at a downtown Chattanooga intersection being responsible for an excess of automated tickets, he timed the light himself. Finding it to be nearly half as long as the local standard, he dismissed the resulting cases on his docket and convinced the city to refund the drivers who had already paid their penalty.

“Judge Bean was concerned not about collecting money for the city but about being fair,” Shattuck said.

Bean’s former court officer, Pat Brown, also wanted to heap more praise on the judge.

Brown began by saying Bean tried to earn, rather than command, respect from the defendants who stood before him. However, on one occasion, even his best efforts fell short.

“We once had church here in court and claimed a convert. The man was mad about being here; he was waving his arms and shouting. When Judge Bean said, ‘We’re going to swear everybody in,’ the man yelled, ‘You’re not swearing me in. I don’t believe in God!’ He ended up wrestling with the court officer. When the officer hollered, ‘Taser!’ the man screamed, ‘Oh, God, help me!’”

Brown also commended his former boss, as well as Paty, for implementing a policy change that kept police officers on the streets rather than in court.

“We used to require police officers to testify in court. There would be so many offers waiting for their turn, the highways would be empty. So, Judge Paty and Judge Bean decided to only call a police officer in to testify if they couldn’t resolve the case another way. I’d say 95% of our cases after that were heard without the officer being present. This saved this city countless dollars and it kept the people who were responsible for protecting our city where they needed to be.”

In a final remark, Brown suggested that Bean has sent more people to defensive driving school than any other Tennessee judge.

“Do the math: 20 cases per docket, three dockets a day, five days a week for 22 years. The number of lives you’ve changed is mind-boggling. You’ve made a difference in Chattanooga. And it was an honor to serve with you. Your portrait will ensure your service is never forgotten.”

With these words, Bean’s children (Russell, Jr.; Chris; and Hollie Gilreath) unveiled his portrait – the latest to join a gallery of depictions that begins with the Hon. Williams Cummings, the first judge to serve after the city launched the court in 1901.

Bean’s approach to the podium were the final steps of a journey he began at Red Bank High School, Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee College of Law. Soon after earning his Juris Doctor, Bean settled into a practice with his father, Crawford, and his brother, Martin.

Bean was an attorney longer than he was a judge, he noted. As a lawyer, he served as president of the Chattanooga Trial Lawyers; as a judge, he received the Freedom Foundation Award, was elected governor of the Tennessee Municipal Judges Conference and received the Hon. Sharon G. Lee Award of Excellence.

Beyond his legal career, Bean was a member of the Tennessee State Guard, where he earned the rank of captain. He also penned and published a book titled, “Missing on Lonely Mountain: A Skateboarding Adventure.”

As Bean spoke to the gathering, he said the hanging of his portrait alongside his distinguished predecessors was an honor. He also thanked a handful of individuals who had mentored and supported him as a judge, including the Hon. Walter Williams, Shattuck and Paty.

He then thanked his fellow jurists for their friendship over the years.

“The law is a hard way to serve the Lord because a lot of people don’t like you. But the camaraderie among the lawyers helped.”

Finally, Bean said the love and support of his church, work and immediate families were critical as he lost multiple loved ones during his time on the bench.

“My mother died at 100 years old. I also lost all three of my brothers. That was tough. I’d want to pick up the phone and talk with them about things. The people in my church, the courthouse community and my family brought me through all this. I can’t thank everyone enough.”

Having concluded the fourth – and final – stop on the Hon. Russell J. Bean 2022-24 retirement tour, Bean accepted the congratulations of dozens of well-wishers during a reception and then returned to his day-to-day life.

Activities include attending UTC basketball and Chattanooga Lookouts games, concerts and singing karaoke.

“If y’all ever want to clear out crowd at a yard sale, ask Judge Bean to sing karaoke,” joked Local 3 news anchor David Carroll, a neighbor of Bean’s.

“Go to my Facebook page and watch the video of me and three young girls singing,” Bean replied. “It has over 300 hits.”

Perhaps it’s time for Bean to embark on a different kind of tour. Look out, Cher!